Why Nurses Need an Elevator Speech

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How many times have you been out in public when someone asks you what you do and you respond, “I’m a nurse.” Bland. Generic. Nondescript. That type of response promotes the false notion that all nurses are alike, do the same thing, and are basically interchangeable. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Case in point: Once you identify yourself as a nurse, the next question is usually, “What hospital do you work in?” And if you don’t work in a hospital the next question is, “Why did you leave nursing?” Sharing more about your role as a nurse gives you credibility and opens the conversation to more meaningful dialogue.

Nursing is one of the most diverse professions on the planet. Yet the scope and breadth of the work we do across the spectrum of health and wellness are widely unknown, even within the nursing community! Additionally, many people don’t know that nurses specialize, can be certified, or in some cases have doctoral degrees. A well-crafted elevator speech can address all of this and more.

An elevator speech is a clear and concise introduction meant to explain the nature of your work. It can be delivered in the time of an average elevator ride (20-30 seconds). So why do nurses need one? It helps to clarify and promote our role and specialty; it instills ‘pride of ownership’ for one’s profession and practice setting; it opens the door for conversation and questions.

When crafting your elevator speech be sure to use clear, descriptive language (no initials, acronyms, or jargon), use professional language such as “I practice at…” rather than “I work at…”, describe your practice setting and role, and use simple explanatory phrases and descriptions that anyone outside of healthcare would understand.

Instead of simply saying, “I’m a NICU nurse” a more clear, accurate, and descriptive response would be, “I’m a registered nurse practicing in a neonatal intensive care unit. That means I take care of newborns and premature infants that are critically ill.” This intro beautifully and briefly conveys the significance of the work this nurse does. The use of acronyms, which nurses are fond of, is meaningless if the listener doesn’t know the acronym or even if they do they may not fully understand the nature of the work there. Whole words and plain language go a long way to promote clarity.

When crafting your elevator speech you ideally want to include your credentials, practice setting, specialty including certifications (many people don’t know nurses can be certified), and a brief explanation of what you do. Here are several additional examples:

“I’m a Registered Nurse certified in oncology nursing. I practice at University Medical Center in the outpatient cancer treatment center. I work with patients undergoing cancer treatment and their families.”

“I’m a licensed practical nurse in the outpatient wound care center at Downtown Medical Center. I specialize in working with patients who have unhealed wounds including working with hyperbaric oxygen chambers. Do you know what that is?” This opens the door for more questions and to continue the conversation.

“I’m a registered nurse and vice-president of nursing services at City Hospital. I have clinical and administrative responsibility for our team of 1,000 nurses in our 300 bed facility.”

“I’m a psychiatric nurse practitioner. I have a private practice working with individuals who need mental health support and counseling. I’m also on staff at City Hospital where I provide services for those who need hospitalization.”

“I’m a nurse practitioner and intensivist at County Medical. That means I specialize in managing and directing the care of critically ill patients in the intensive care unit.”

“I’m a registered nurse practicing at Downtown Medical within the specialty of neurology. That means I care for patients who have had strokes, brain trauma, and other neurological issues.

“My name is Dr. Robin Walsh. I am a registered nurse with a doctoral degree in nursing science and practice” (or whatever your graduate degree is in). This will explain the title ‘Dr’ but likely open the door for more questions since many don’t understand why a nurse would get a doctoral degree in nursing rather than become an MD (see below response). You can then add something about your practice setting such as, “I practice as a transitional care manager at County General. That means I work with patients and families to coordinate healthcare services when they are being transferred to another care setting including their home.”

“I’m a registered nurse practicing as a school nurse at Jefferson High School. I’m responsible for the health and wellbeing of 500 students and educators.”

And then when someone says, “Gee, you’re so intelligent; why didn’t you become a medical doctor?” you can respond, “It is precisely because I am so intelligent that I chose nursing. Nursing and medicine are two entirely different career paths. One is not an elevated version of the other. I chose nursing because it keeps me in close proximity to those I serve where I believe I can do the most good.”

Your elevator speech has the power to transform your practice and the profession as a whole. Craft your elevator speech today, rehearse it, and then start introducing yourself everywhere you go. Observe how it makes you feel and how others react differently to you as you elevate the profession to new heights and expand awareness of the vital and diverse role nurses play.

©Donna Cardillo. All Rights Reserved.

15 thoughts on “Why Nurses Need an Elevator Speech”

  1. Pingback: Why Nurses Need an Elevator Speech - nursesfly

  2. Sara Sprecher, BSN, RN, CNOR,

    This certainly will blow the typical “you’re just a nurse” comment right up! When I tell people I am an OR nurse that always gets their attention, usually one of two reactions–interest & questions or the I could never do that response.

  3. Donna, as always you made the mundane statement of “I am a NICU nurse” into an elegant, informative statement that paints a clear picture of what I, as a nurse, does. The additional suggested responses are dynamic and can be translated into any nursing role. Thank you for all you do highlight nurses!

  4. This is so timely for me, and important for nurses in general. It has been on my backburner and now it is not! Thank you so much Donna once again for sharing your wise support for nurses.

  5. Nadine L. Montuori, RN

    I’m sending you a virtual clapping hands! It’s true that people don’t really know what nurses do and the difference in our “scope of practice”.

    thank you!

  6. Christine Utegg

    Donna- I forwarded your email to the ambulatory RNs and LPNs. I have received many positive responses. One person said we should incorporate this into nurses week and introduce ourselves to each other. So many of us, inpatient and ambulatory, don’t truly know what others do in their day to day practice. Thank you for making our nurses feel empowered!

  7. Olusanya Goodness Oladipupo

    Wow, this is a beautiful writeup… The last statement got me challenged… “You are intelligent, why not medicine??” Thanks for your answer there it helps me to be more proud of my profession.

  8. Kimberly Sanchez

    Thank you for sharing this! Here is my attempt at the elevator speech in my new role:
    I am Dr. Kimberly Sanchez. I am a registered nurse with a doctoral degree in nursing science. I am an advanced practice nurse, certified as a clinical nurse specialist, in the state of California. I practice as a nurse scientist at the Keck Medical Center of USC in Los Angeles. That means I design and conduct nursing research studies to investigate ways to improve the health and wellness of patients while they are acutely ill in the hospital.

    1. Donna Cardillo

      Good job with this Kim! It’s a little longer than the typical elevator speech but in your case there is a lot to say, all of it important. It should open the door for many questions which is what you want. There are so many phrases in there that the average person would never have heard before such as “doctoral degree in nursing science” “certified as a clinical nurse specialist” “nurse scientist” “nursing research”. Let me know how it works for you. Bravo!

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